Tuesday, January 09, 2007

Oscar Nominee Predictions - Lead Categories

Entertainment Weekly will likely put out their annual Oscar nominees prediction issue this week, so I want to get my predictions out ahead of theirs. Nominees are announced January 23. Of course, no one from the Academy will be reading my blog, but I put my "for your consideration" picks in here too.

Best Picture

  • Babel
  • The Departed
  • Dreamgirls
  • Little Miss Sunshine
  • The Queen
Competition for the best picture slate is really tight this year, with no clear frontrunner yet for who's going to win. The Departed is probably the surest best to get a nomination, and Babel, which led with the most Golden Globes, looks like a good #2. Dreamgirls would have been a pretty safe pick, but it's buzz is actually beginning to wane a bit; still, it's probably in there. Same story for The Queen; while Helen Mirren has a lock on best actress, the film itself isn't as getting as much notice as a best picture as I thought, but I'll keep it here anyway. By my book, that leaves a handful of films in tight contention for the fifth slot. A nomination for Borat, Little Children, or Flags of Our Fathers would be a true upset, so don't expect it. United 93 picked up a surprising number of critics' awards, but despite its raw authenticity, 9/11 doesn't strike me as something the Academy is ready to honor yet. Up until yesterday I would have put my money on Clint Eastwood's second Iwo Jima WWII picture, Letters From Iwo Jima, but not getting a DGA nomination was a real slam, particularly since you would have expected them to honor his double achievement. Little Miss Sunshine has a better chance, as the year's best comedy with a surprising amount of depth, that's generating a growing amount of awards buzz. (For your consideration: Flags of Our Fathers. Letters from Iwo Jima is getting the better buzz, but that doesn't mean Flags of Our Fathers isn't a worthy film. The battle scenes are gripping and unnerving, it's beautifully filmed, and serves as a powerful reminder of the affects of wars on those who fight them.)

Best Actor
  • Leonardo DiCaprio, The Departed
  • Ryan Gosling, Half Nelson
  • Peter O'Tool, Venus
  • Will Smith, The Pursuit of Happyness
  • Forest Whitaker, The Last King of Scotland

Forest Whitaker has a strong lead in this category, having won most of the major critics' awards for his chilling work in The Last King of Scotland--he's a sure thing. Two other actors are looking pretty strong at this point, Peter O'Tool for Venus and Will Smith for The Pursuit of Happyness (sic). Leonardo DiCaprio has to be a sure thing too, but for what? He was nominated by the Globes for both The Departed and Blood Diamond, but Oscar rules don't allow an actor to get two nominations in the same category, and there's no way you consider DiCaprio's performance supporting in The Departed, despite its ensemble cast--he's the central character. So how do you pick? He's got more to do in Blood Diamond, but his work in the Departed required more sublty. Given that the Departed will likely gets lots of other nominations, I'm going to give it the advantage. So again, we have that last slot up for grabs. Ken Watanabe is getting good reviews for Letters from Iwo Jima, but will enough Oscar voters see it in time to consider him? Sacha Baron Cohen could score an upset for Borat--he is the movie after all--but I think his brand of comedy is too edgy for Oscar. I'll give my fifth spot to Ryan Gosling's stunning work as a drug-addicted, middle school teacher in Half Nelson. (For your consideration: Aaron Eckhart, Thank You For Smoking. Aaron Eckhart has made a small name for himself in indie pictures like In the Company of Men, but really made people sit up and take notice with his funny and commanding performance in Thank You For Smoking as a detestable lobbyist who has a change of heart.)

Best Actress
  • Penelope Cruz, Volver
  • Judi Dench, Notes on a Scandal
  • Helen Mirren, The Queen
  • Meryl Streep, The Devil Wears Prada
  • Kate Winslet, Little Children

This is by far the easiest category to predict, perhaps the easiest I've ever seen. All five women on the list have a lock for the nomination in my opinion. Even among these clear leaders, the clearest leader is The Queen's Helen Mirren, who has managed the astounding feat of capturing every single critics award I have seen, probably about 15 by now. This certainly must be unprecedented, and if she doesn't go all the way to victory next month, it will truly be a big surprise. The other four will have to be content with their nominations, and they all did amazing work: Judi Dench in Notes on a Scandal, Penelope Cruz in Volver, and Kate Winslet in Little Children all did excellent work in dramatic roles. The fifth spot will surely go to Meryl Streep for The Devil Wears Prada. Even though it's comedy, even though it's really is a supporting role, it's Meryl, and no one can resist Meryl. Were they to somehow magically resist though, Maggie Gyllenhaal for Sherrybaby would be a provocative choice; Running with Scissors was a flop, but Annette Bening gave it her all; and Toni Collette was subtle yet quite effective as the mom holding the Little Miss Sunshine family together. (For your consideration: There's no one I'd want to honor that isn't mentioned above. I say give it to Mirren--she's earned it.)

Best Supporting Actor
  • Jackie Earle Haley, Little Children
  • Djimon Hounsou, Blood Diamond
  • Eddie Murphy, Dreamgirls
  • Jack Nicholson, The Departed
  • Michael Sheen, The Queen
While Actress is easy to call this year, Supporting Actor is particularly difficult, as there are about 12 men that have at least a shot of getting it. About the only sure thing in this category this year is Eddie Murphy's well-received turn in Dreamgirls, putting him as the frontrunner to win. Two actors have received a few critics awards and deserve nominations: Djimon Hounsou as a desperate father searching for his son in Blood Diamond, and Jackie Earle Haley, as the creepy yet human neighborhood sex offender in Little Children. From here it gets really hard.

The Departed is likely to be a favorite this year, and it has a strong supporting cast. Jack Nicholson is a perennial awards favorite, but isn't he just being Jack here, chewing up scenery? Still, I expect him to get the upper hand over Mark Wahlberg, who is also getting notice for his quirky performance.

As for the last slot...how much time do I have? Alan Arkin is emerging as a possible nominee, riding the strong buzz for Little Miss Sunshine as the movie's profane grandfather. Steve Carell as that movie's troubled gay uncle is also a possibility. Adam Beach was moving as a American Indian soldier dealing simultaneously with hero worship and prejudice in Flags of Our Fathers, but I'm afraid this movie is going to get totally overlooked. Ben Affleck in Hollywoodland? Didn't see it, but he nabbed a Golden Globe nomination and has some good buzz. Brad Pitt also got a Globe nomination, and if Babel has a strong showing overall, it could push him onto the list. James McAvoy from Last King of Scotland has been mentioned, but I think his performance was really leading, not supporting. Even The Devil Wears Prada's Stanley Tucci is getting some whispers for his subtle performance as fashion director playing second fiddle to Streep's editor diva. In the end, I'm going out on a limb and saying it's going to be Michael Sheen for his winsome performance as Prime Minister Tony Blair in The Queen, providing a fresh counterpoint to Mirren's stiff upper lip. (For your consideration: Michael Caine, Children of Men. Caine has such a warm screen presence, doesn't he? And he adds a nice touch of levity and humanity to the gloom and boom of Children of Men.)

Best Supporting Actress
  • Adriana Barraza, Babel
  • Cate Blanchett, Notes on a Scandal
  • Abigail Breslin, Little Miss Sunshine
  • Jennifer Hudson, Dreamgirls
  • Rinko Kikuchi, Babel
Not as crowded a field as supporting actor, but still pretty contentious. First, there are two surebets, the strongest of which is Dreamgirls star-making performance from former American Idol contestant Jennifer Hudson. Also a shoe-in is Cate Blanchett's work as a pedophilic teacher in Notes on Scandal. Two actresses from Babel are getting strong enough buzz that we should see their names here. Rinko Kikuchi as a deaf Japanese teen is perhaps the more popular choice, but my personal favorite is Adriana Barraza's sympathetic portrayal of a troubled immigrant maid. Catherine O'Hara had been getting buzz for her role in For Your Consideration, in a nice life imitates art twist, but that buzz has since faded. Ditto that for Emma Thompson in Stranger than Fiction. Shareeka Epps gave a powerful breakout performance in Half Nelson, but given that Ryan Gosling will be lucky to be nominated, a nomination for Epps would be a miracle. Emily Blunt was fantastic in The Devil Wears Prada, and garnered a Globe nomination, but I think she's going to get edged out, unless she can steal Barraza's spot. I'm giving the last spot to Little Miss Sunshine's Abigail Breslin, who nailed the year's funniest scene for her beauty queen lip sync. (For your consideration: Carmen Maura, Volver. Penelope Cruz crackles with life in Volver, but as her dead (?) mother, Carmen Maura turns in a loving performance too.)

Best Director
  • Bill Condon, Dreamgirls
  • Clint Eastwood, Letters from Iwo Jima
  • Stephen Frears, The Queen
  • Alejandro González Iñárritu, Babel
  • Martin Scorsese, The Departed
The Directors Guild of America (DGA) announced its nominees today and I was shocked to see that they overlooked Clint Eastwood. A worthy director anway, Eastwood--at age 76 no less--churned out not one but two masterful films this year portraying the World War II battle of Iwo Jima from both the American (Flags of Our Fathers) and Japanese (Letters from Iwo Jima)perspectives, all while commenting on our nation's current state of war. Quite impressive, but apparently not impressive enough for the DGA, who instead picked directing pair Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris for Little Miss Sunshine--something which I'm not sure the Oscars will allow (I think you can only have one director). While the DGA is the best predictor of who will win the Best Director Oscar, they're not a sure thing at predicting the nominees, so I'm willing to bet the Academy, who loves actors who also direct, won't snub Eastwood, even if Letters from Iwo Jima doesn't get a Best Picture nomination. Enough ranting. The sure bet this year is Martin Scorsese for The Departed, famously nominated now five times without a win (Raging Bull, The Last Temptation of Christ, Goodfellas, Gangs of New York, and The Aviator). This will be his year, mark my words. Stephen Frears (The Queen), Alejandro González Iñárritu (Babel), and Bill Condon (Dreamgirls) all seem like pretty safe bets too, especially if their movies all get nominated for Best Picture. If there's an upset though, it could come from Paul Greengrass, who's won several critics awards for gripping, documentary-esque United 93. (For your consideration: Alfonso Cuaron, Children of Men. Credit Cuaron for achieving both artistic vision of amazing technical acumen with Children of Men, for its noirish futurism and extended one-take action sequences respectively.)

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